Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Publisher: Vintage Classics
First published 1878
Genres: Classics, Romance, Historical Fiction – Russia
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon
Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Karenin provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfil her passionate nature – with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.
Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.
Anna Karenina is one of the most compelling character-driven books I’ve read. I know the size might make it look a bit scary or even boring, but it isn’t. It’s a very interesting, fast and emotional story about Russia and family relationships.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
One of the things that makes this book completely different from any other is that all characters – and there’s a lot of them – are incredibly realistic, complex and well developed – they are not portrayed in neither a good nor a bad, just in a human way – but more than that, we just kind of follow their lives as they develop.
I believe Tolstoy doesn’t portray his opinion on what’s right and wrong in this novel, just what “mistakes” are. I didn’t feel the need I sometimes have in other books on being angry to a character for some reason or other, obviously, I liked some better but I just couldn’t hate any of them, no matter what they did… I believe that happened for two reasons: the book is extremely fast-paced, there’s no time to be gawking and criticizing a character, there’s just too much going on to do that; and the other reason is that you get to see these characters from an outsider’s perspective, a bit like a soap opera, and you just see things happen, and although you have your opinion on things, they just don’t change the way you see the character. It’s just… so gripping and I felt nosy!
But the book talks about more than the characters’ lives, we talk about politics, marriage, the women’s status, city life vs country life, Russian in general, … It for sure talks about a lot, but everything is incredibly well intertwined together and the story is full of drama and excitement. It’s a bit like a Russian Soap Opera!
Anna Karenina’s story is of an infidel wife. But the thing is that back then, people often didn’t marry for love and if they want to get a divorce (which was already possible), their life would be destroyed. So is there any other way of actually being happy? Some might be lucky to actually find happiness in their marriage, but many don’t and Anna is one of those… Should she just live for her family, not thinking about herself and her happiness? OR should she follow her heart and love? It’s really difficult to take parts in this story and that’s what I loved the most! Anna might have been infidel, but she was also a very strong, lively and easy person to like. She was a good person and you are able to see that, even tho she wasn’t as good being a wife.
But the character I found most interesting and loved the most in this book was Levin. There’s just so much to him! I really liked to read about Anna and Kitty and Oblonsky and so on, but none was more interesting to me than Levin. Plus the contrast between Levin and Kitty and Anan and Vronsky was really well done! There’s a lot of character contrasts in this book, for example, Anna is wild and wants everything life has to offer, contrary to Dolly (Anna’s sister in law) who is submissive and conservative, only dedicating herself to being a housewife and taking care of her children… Which is what she dedicates herself to when her husband cheats on her because it’s always easier to neglect the truth than to change all her life…
I also really liked Kitty, and how she managed to grow up, overcome the tragedies of love and become a happy, different and calm person. Tolstoy shows how there’s a connection between happiness and health, and how someone’s kindness and love can help a lot and I deeply believe in that too. How we should always try and do our best to help one another, and how much happier we will be that way.
The topic of this book I was most interesting to read about was the differences between how woman and man are treated. Which in many ways still happens nowadays. For example, when Oblonsky cheated on his wife nothing much happened, but when Anna cheated on her husband, it started raining hell! Everyone looked at her accusingly but no one did that to him… It just really hit me, this topic, and the way it was approached was quite intense and clear.
This story is incredibly well written, realistic and just full of drama. I was just engrossed in the pages and in their lives and I couldn’t look away from them. There’s a lot of hate-love contrast; religion – how people should believe in God, but not necessarily submit themselves to the church; critiques to high society; critiques to living in the city, and how much better is a rural life; he also shows how humans can be both cruel and moral; and how it’s difficult for one to understand other’s suffering and end up just trying to blame the other for it, which was a big and important part of the story.
There’s a lot of important messages in this book and it’s also quite fast-paced and easy to read, contrary to what it seems. I loved it and I would definitely recommend it!
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
“I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”
“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”
“Be bad, but at least don’t be a liar, a deceiver!”
“I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!